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David Leskowitz is passionate about Hope Charity, a charity that works to help children recover from polio in India.  Polio is still a rampant disease in India that the Rotary End Polio Campaign is working to eradicate.  Hope Charity is an organization that is able to help children walk after their recovery from the disease for very low overhead costs.  It is also another example of how a small organization can make enormous progress toward change for those who would otherwise be forced to go without.

Love and Water- How did you become involved with Hope Charity?

David Leskowitz- I met Sanjay, the leader of Hope Charity, in 2006.  I work for a non-profit in Berkeley that helps Tibetan monks that have been exiled in India.  The village we work with is very close to Sanjay’s village.  I was so moved by what Sanjay was doing that I wanted to help in any way I could.  At that time I was able to raise funds just amongst my family and close friends, and we sent them enough to operate on for a few months.  The operating budget for a year is about a $3,000, so it’s not very much.  In 2007 my friends and I had one benefit and raised enough to help them again.  After that we were only able to give sporadically so without it being a steady stream of income we couldn’t keep the momentum going, and in the last year they haven’t had any funding at all.  I was busy volunteering for another organization, and was able to check in with Sanjay because I lived in the same town as him for the last six months.  We brainstormed about how to get the charity back up and running.

L&W- Can you talk about the premise of the organization and how it works?

DL- The basic premise is that there is a polio clinic, which is a physio-therapy clinic that works with children who have already had and recovered from polio.  The clinic works with the paralysis that has set in to straighten out their legs.  They use only one method, which is plaster casts, so it is very low cost.  It is usually about a three month procedure and the children come in every week or two to have their plaster stretched a little bit.  I witnessed two children at the end of their treatments who were able to walk- it was incredible, and the whole treatment costs only $30.00.  The staff is all volunteers, because they want to help, so that’s another reason the cost is so low.  They come in from other villages on motor bikes, so another cost is their fuel.  It is a 100 kilometer drive there and back.  So the only two costs we need to raise money for are the plaster casts and petrol fuel.

L&W- I think it’s important to talk about the fact that polio is still a problematic disease in places like India, because so many people here in the U.S. are not aware of that.

DL- Polio is still quite a rampant disease in India.  In the past eight years, India began its End Polio campaign through the Rotary, so they are working to eradicate it, but it’s a very difficult country to be thorough in because everything is so incredibly spread out.  People often live in very small clusters throughout giant spreads of land.  Hope Charity doesn’t carry out the inoculation process- they just work with children who are past the disease and need to learn to walk again.

L&W- There is a more in-depth interview about this very topic with Mary McManus on the Love and Water blog, who ironically knows you as well.  Mary is a polio survivor who works closely with the Rotary’s End Polio Campaign.

DL- Yes, Mary is wonderful and knows all the details about the campaign.  Fundraising for Hope Charity is quite simple at this point, as we just send a small amount each month.  If anyone wants to donate they can send any amount to Mary McManus, and she will get it to them.  Any amount is extremely helpful, as it doesn’t take much to keep this charity going.  $100.00 can find three children entirely.  We also have larger goals, which is to make a permanent clinic, because as of now we borrow space.  It would keep children well beyond the three months of their treatment, which many of them need.  So once we’re stable with this, we can plan on making that happen.  For now we just want to make sure that we can resume the plaster treatments, which is the most important part of the treatment.  For $50.00 a month they could also reinstate the women’s health center they once had that focuses on educating women of the villages about health care so they can take care of themselves and their families better.

L&W- What is the most moving moment you’ve had while observing and learning what Hope Charity does?

DL- Very simply when Deepak, a five year old boy, had his cast removed and he took his first steps, and as he stepped into the dust where the cast had been sawed off his leg he left a footprint of plaster dust.  It was extremely moving on many levels.  It was kind of sad and indicative of the conditions as well, because he had to have another procedure because there was no follow-up care.  Some of the children who are older often have to walk with canes because their bodies can’t manage without the follow-up care.  But since Deepak was so young, he has a good prognosis.

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